Virtual Environmental and Humanitarian Adviser Tool – (VEHA Tool) is a tool
to easily integrate environmental considerations in humanitarian response. Field Implementation guidances are useful for the design and execution of humanitarian activities in the field.
Pollution and environmental degradation intensify environmental health risks and create harmful living conditions. Pollution of the water, soil, and the air is a threat to human health and wellbeing and exacerbates poverty and inequality. Additionally, environmental disasters can quickly overwhelm and/or interrupt the established protocols for dealing with the dead. Under such circumstances, the decomposition and putrefaction of cadavers go unchecked and raise a series of health, logistical, and psychological issues.
Ensure traditions are safeguarded if needed.
Risk of air, soil, and water contamination or direct human contamination from human or animal bodies, fetuses, placentas, organic waste, medical instruments, and other medical waste, and from medical facility effluents.
Burials and cremations can have the following environmental impacts:
– land use, reducing land availability for other activities including agriculture
– land clearance damaging flora and fauna
– burials contaminating soil and watercourses
– embalming chemicals leaching into soil and groundwater
– release of methane from decomposition
– release of mercury and dioxins in cremations
– substantial energy use in cremation
‘- Disease spread through the environment from contact between health responders/rescuers and dead or dying infected people.
– Disease spread through the environment from dead bodies in contact with groundwater
– Disease spread through the environment from medical waste disposal contact with people, soil, or water
– Disease spread through the environment from contaminated blackwater release into the environment
– Disease spread from poor handling of medical waste including sharps, or poor hygiene or cleaning practices
Waste from autopsies, animal bodies, and other organic waste that has been inoculated, infected, or in contact with highly infectious agents (based on the World Health Organization’s [WHO] Laboratory biosafety manual or other international or national risk-based classification of pathogens) are highly infectious waste. Discarded instruments or materials that have been in contact with persons or animals infected with highly infectious agents are also to be considered infectious waste. Mortuaries and autopsy centers are one of the major sources of healthcare waste. Pathological waste could be considered a subcategory of infectious waste but is often classified separately – especially when special methods of handling, treatment, and disposal are used. Pathological waste consists of tissues, organs, body parts, blood, body fluids, and other waste from surgery and autopsies on patients with infectious diseases. It also includes human fetuses and infected animal carcasses.
Burial or cremation funerals can have damaging impacts on the environment, including land use and land clearance, and removed access to potential agricultural land. Chemicals from embalming fluids, burial, and the cremation process can leach into the air and soil, and expose funeral workers or funeral mourners to potential hazards. The chemicals founds in embalming (e.g.: formaldehyde, phenol, methanol, and glycerin) fluids can enter the ground and gradually work their way into the soil and ground water. Buried bodies also release methane as they decompose. On the other hand, whilst cremation is said to be less harsh on the environment, cremation releases harmful gases, such as mercury and dioxin, into the air as well as using significant amount of energy and power.
Pathological waste consists of tissues, organs, body parts, blood, body fluids and other waste from surgery and autopsies on patients with infectious diseases. It also includes human foetuses, placentas and infected animal carcasses. Burying procedures and methods differ depending on local cultural practices and traditions. Most epidemic agents do not survive long in the human body after death. Human remains only pose substantial risk in a few infectious cases, such as deaths from cholera or haemorrhagic fevers. To those in close contact with the dead, such as rescue workers, there is a health risk from chronic infectious diseases which the dead may have been suffering from and which are spread by direct contact, including a risk of contracting tuberculosis, bloodborne viruses (eg hepatitis B and C and HIV) and gastrointestinal infections (e.g. cholera, E. coli, hepatitis A, rotavirus diarrhoea, salmonellosis, shigellosis and typhoid/paratyphoid fevers). Dead bodies can spread infections through contamination of water supply sources. Contamination of water supplies by unburied bodies, burial sites, or temporary storage sites may result in the spread of gastroenteritis from normal intestinal contents.
There was much learning from the West Africa Ebola humanitarian response around dead body treatment and disposal. A key way to influence community behaviour and reduce the spread of Ebola was to support religious leaders of different faiths to jointly dispel false health beliefs and promote hygienic burial practices.
Prevention of environmental damage